The BBC reports that arguments between the EU and the UK about the post-Brexit status of Northern Ireland have intensified. It is a special case, involving the UK’s only land border with the EU and a history of violent political division.
The Northern Ireland protocol was created to avoid the return of a “hard” trade border on the island of Ireland. Instead, all goods moving across the Irish Sea from Great Britain (GB) into Northern Ireland (NI) have to follow EU rules, even if they never leave the UK.
Both sides negotiated and signed the protocol, which is now part of international law, but they are struggling to make it work in practice.
he present system cannot cope with the number of checks required on goods entering Northern Irish ports from GB.
The UK government has unilaterally extended a series of grace periods.
But even so, the authorities in Northern Ireland are struggling to deal with demand.
Northern Ireland’s chief vet Robert Huey said in April his team was conducting more checks on products of animal origin moving across the Irish Sea than France was at all its ports.
It was also conducting 325 documentary checks every day, he said, while Rotterdam, one of the busiest ports in the world, had only 125.
This is partly because containers arriving in Rotterdam are often full of one commodity, whereas each supermarket lorry crossing from GB to Northern Ireland contains multiple loads, all of which need to be checked.
If all the current grace periods expired, Mr Huey added, his team would need to conduct nearly as many checks on food as were being conducted in the whole of the EU. And he has only 12 vets.
A grace period that allows chilled meats such as sausages to be sent from GB to NI expires at the end of this month.
And after that, in theory, such sales would be banned.